Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Maryland, is being accused of condoning mob censorship. An academic freedom and individual rights watchdog group is decrying school officials’ part in an apparent attempt to silence a conservative newspaper.
In May, the Carrolton Record published an issue critical of a group that brought a pornographic film director to the JHU campus. Afterward, hundreds of copies of the newspaper were stolen; however, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the university administration “turned a blind eye to the theft.”
According to the Record’s editor, about half of the 600 copies that went missing were confiscated by university administrators. However, the editor of the conservative paper says a campus security officer and the Dean of Student Life both said the seized papers did not constitute theft.
Meanwhile, some members of JHU’s Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance have filed harassment charges against the Record. The group leveled its complaint against the newspaper for publishing a front-page photo of Alliance members posing with the porno filmmaker.
If that act constitutes harassment, FIRE president Greg Lukianoff comments, at this rate harassment may come to be known as the exception that swallows the First Amendment. He claims the word “harassment” has become a catch-all for anything that makes students or other individuals in the university setting uncomfortable.
“I’m just sick of seeing this,” Lukianoff says. “On campus, if you’re offended, if you’re angry, if there’s something you’re just uncomfortable with, if there’s an opinion you dislike, or if an op-ed comes out that you disagree with, there’s an all-too-common tendency to call that harassment,” he asserts, “and it happens in case after case, after case.”
In a similar example, the FIRE spokesman notes, JHU has a troubling policy that allows its resident assistants (RAs) to arbitrarily ban certain flyers and student publications. “Johns Hopkins has just done so many things wrong,” he says, and he believes the school has many areas it needs to address to make amends.
“But the number-one thing that they must do is repudiate this harassment investigation against the newspaper,” Lukianoff adds. “And the next thing they need to do is get rid of this policy that essentially gives infinite power to censor to RAs,” he says.
Also, one of the most essential things that Johns Hopkins University’s administrators must do, Lukianoff insists, is something “they should have done already.” He says JHU must immediately condemn, in no uncertain terms, the theft of the Carrolton Record’s newspapers.